Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter will reportedly announce he’s pulling out of the Colorado governor’s race Wednesday – a stunning development that leaves the campaign wide open for a host of Democrats to take on Republican front-runner Scott McInnis.
Taegan Goddard’s Political Wire blog, affiliated with Congressional Quarterly, first broke the story, saying Ritter was ending his re-election bid after canceling a scheduled fundraiser Tuesday night. The blog said the decision was not related to fund-raising, which was going better than expected.
Ritter spokesman Evan Dreyer issued a press release Wednesday morning announcing “a news conference at 11 a.m. today in the West Foyer of the State Capitol to make an announcement about his future. The previously scheduled 10 a.m. event with Microsoft is being postponed to a future date; it will not take place today.”
While Democrats were scrambling to assess the situation, Republicans were quick to dance on Ritter’s gubernatorial grave. Colorado Republican Party chairman Dick Wadhams told The Fix’s Chris Cilliza that “Bill Ritter was literally the weakest incumbent in nearly 50 years and his own party was unenthusiastic at best for his reelection.”
Former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, whom Ritter surprisingly passed over when picking Sen. Michael Bennet to replace Ken Salazar when he took over the Interior Department, is being most prominently mentioned to seek the Democratic nomination.
But other early speculation is focusing on Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, Salazar, U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter and state treasurer Cary Kennedy. AP was reporting Democratic Party chairwoman Pat Waak and U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette would convene a meeting of senior Democrats on Wednesday to decide how to proceed.
McInnis told AP Hickenlooper and Romanoff were too Denver-centric and that Colorado needs more. McInnis is a former six-term congressman from the Western Slope. He has been hitting Ritter hard on taxes, government spending and his perceived lack of support for the oil and gas industry.
McInnis, an attorney for a Denver firm that often represents oil and gas interests, also keeps a home in Grand Junction. He’s been blasting the governor for months on new drilling regulations that put more emphasis on the environment — a key issue for voters in some conservative Western Slope strongholds.
But Ritter’s “New Energy Economy” has been touted nationwide as an example of how to balance fossil fuels with renewable sources to diversify a state’s energy portfolio, and many Coloradans — some say a majority — support more regulation of extractive industries, including mining, to protect the state’s natural beauty and outdoor recreation economy.
A rising star in the Democratic Party who won election in a landslide in 2006 and helped land the state the Democratic National Convention in 2008, Ritter at one point looked to be a lock for a second term. But the flagging economy was clearly costing the governor in recent polls, and the debate on how to shore up the state’s mounting budget deficit is expected to dominate the legislative session that starts next week.